Having your vehicle aligned improves the handling and extends the life of your tires. It is a simple procedure, and it makes a big difference. You may be wondering how and why. Alignments are notoriously mysterious, but we are here to help.
What Is a Vehicle Alignment?
An alignment refers to the geometry of your suspension system. The control arms, steering components, and mounting points for the axles have all been engineered to fit in exact places. The geometry of these related parts is important. This web of metal must keep all four of your tires working together as a team. They need to roll in the same direction and at the same speed.
When there are parts that have shifted out of place, the alignment of those components is thrown off. This can be caused by damage or wear. Metal is flexible, and hitting potholes or curbs can cause small changes in the shape. Over time, the alignment angles are pushed out of place. Rubber components of bushings also degrade and lose their effectiveness.
What Are the Alignment Angles?
There are three angles that your service technician will inspect and attempt to correct:
- Camber – This is the vertical tilt of the wheels. If your wheels do not stand up and down at the proper angle on the road, the camber angle is off.
- Toe – This is the rolling direction of the wheels. Your wheels must roll in the same exact direction in relation to one another.
- Caster – This a balancing angle that relates to the vehicle’s weight and steering. Too much or too little caster makes your vehicle difficult to control, potentially causing the vehicle to drift.
The old manual alignment techniques mechanics used to rely on are not accurate enough. Our modern service stations use a computerized alignment rack with optical sensors. A trained technician sets your vehicle up on the rack and takes measurements of the position of your wheels. The results indicate the current alignment angles that require adjustment or repairs.
How Can I Tell If I need an Alignment?
The exact measurements of your alignment must be taken by our special alignment equipment, but there are some obvious signs of a problem you can look for on your own:
- Excessive feathering of your tires indicates a problem with the toe angle.
- Wear on one side of your tires is usually caused by excessive camber or toe.
- Difficulty steering or slow return of the steering wheel to center may be a problem with your caster angles.
- A crooked steering wheel is almost always caused by an alignment issue often due to worn parts.
- Pulling to the left or right when driving is also caused by wheel alignment problems.
Sometimes, older parts wear out at the same rate. Your alignment may be off, but the car still feels balanced when you drive it. This won’t stop your tires from wearing prematurely. An alignment check can identify this problem.
Benefits of a Vehicle Alignment
Your tires are rated for a specific mileage. That is the distance the manufacturer estimates the tread will last. This estimate assumes that your vehicle alignment is set correctly. If this is not the case, your tires will wear out prematurely. This can also void the warranty on tires in some instances.
A proper alignment also makes your vehicle easier to drive. Fighting a steering pull or drift over long drives is exhausting. If your steering wheel is crooked, it can be disorienting to you.
Fixing a vehicle alignment may require replacing worn or defective parts. This obviously adds to the cost of an alignment, but fortunately, this is not always the case. In many instances, an alignment can be set by simply adjusting existing components.
If you are not sure if your vehicle needs alignment work, bring it to one of our service centers. Our technicians at Sun Auto Service have experience with multiple vehicle makes and models. We can get your car rolling in the right direction.